How to...have an eco-friendly Halloween

Halloween pumpkins
Creating extra waste and encouraging over-consumption; Halloween isn’t the greenest holiday. But as Ben Hudson explains, you can still have a scarily good time without it costing the planet

With the global population set to reach seven billion on the 31st of October and no end in sight to economic and environmental turmoil, this year’s Halloween could be the most terrifying since the Middle Ages. Once associated with mystery, magic and superstition, modern Halloween celebrations are more about dressing up, revelry and spookily shaped sweets. More than 2,000 years old, Halloween is one of the world’s oldest festivals for commemorating the dead and making the transition into winter.  But commercialisation has turned this rather simplistic idea into a multibillion dollar business. Next to Christmas, more money is spent at Halloween than on any other holiday, with the US alone spending a whopping $6.5 billion on candy, costumes and decorations.

Unfortunately, this translates into a whole lot of waste and carbon emissions. But there are ways to reduce the impact of your spooky celebrations. ‘In truth, to celebrate Halloween, you don’t need to spend a penny,’ says Lynn Colwell from US not-for-profit organisation, Green Halloween. ‘We’re not taking anything away, we’re trying to help people have a great time and that does not involve mum and dad going out and buying stuff. We promote healthy and eco alternatives so it’s good for the children and good for the planet.’ Here’s how to do Halloween celebrations the eco friendly way.

What to wear
Masks and costumes are an integral part of Halloween and unlike sweets, are a tradional way to celebrate it. On the 31st, it was believed that the dead would return to earth and roam the streets so to avoid being recognised people would wear masks to misdirect spirits and ghosts. When Halloween reached America it became more about communal parties and festivities where it lost much of its religious and superstitious undertones.  But Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without the costumes everyone from one to 100 loves to wear. After all, it’s the one night of the year where anything goes wardrobe-wise as long as you’ve got a good back story.

For most people, costumes are store-bought rather than home-made. Cheap mass-produced non-recyclable polyvinyl chloride (PVC) costumes often don’t last the night and end up littering the streets until they are committed to landfill.  Rather than splashing out, get creative and make you own costume from old clothes. If you are having party, make it a rule and give prizes for the best (and worst) designs. Look through your old clothes; you’ll be surprised what you will find at the back of your wardrobe. Ask friends and family for help and if you need to buy something go to a charity shop. The same applies for make-up; Halloween is a great chance to use those odds and ends of old make-up left at the bottom of your bag. You can make a pretty convincing ghost or Greek God with an old bed-sheet and it’s just as easy to scare up a zombie costume with the right combination of ragged-clothing and make-up. If you are still struggling, you can always rent a costume or swap clothes with a friend for the rather lame ‘we’ve come as each other’ look - just don’t expect to win any prizes.

Halloween is the second largest holiday after Christmas for buying decorations. Most are made from non-recyclable plastic and, as with costumes, end up in landfill. With the cover of darkness and some carefully positioned candles you won’t need any animatronics or plastic pumpkins to create atmospheric decor. Start by turning out the lights (making a saving on electricity in the process) and light some candles to set the mood. Avoid parrafin candles and opt for beeswax or vegetable wax candles instead.  ‘There are so many things that you can do - we are just not just used to thinking about using what we have,’ comments Lynn. Failing that, take to nature as the woods in autumn have plenty of wonderful organic, local and free decorations. Make sure you’re allowed to take the items and remember to compost them afterwards. ‘One of things we like to do is grab the whole family and go out for a hike,’ says Lynn. ‘Everybody has a bag with them and they fill it with whatever they like - leaves, rocks and anything else - then we come home and everybody makes a table decoration. We love using natural items, get a branch, stick it in a pot and get your kids to make a whole bunch of decoration for it - just like you would a Christmas tree.’  A carved pumpkin is synonymous with Halloween so make sure yours is organic. Make the most of your pumpkin by using the flesh inside for a hearty soup, stew or even a pumpkin pie. Of the millions of pumpkins sold every year in the UK, 99 per cent are used for making Jack-O-Lanterns - the vast majority of which end up in the bin. Instead, use the whole pumpkin and compost the remains. Also consider growing your own pumpkin for next year.

What to eat
Like all good celebrations Halloween is all about the food and always has been, coinciding, as it does, with harvest festivals and the beginning of winter. Lynn’s advice is to ‘think local and think organic. That means seasonal, winter vegetables.’ From chestnuts to sweetcorn there are plenty of in season goodies to roast on an open fire. ‘Pumpkins are not just to decorate but also to eat,’ adds Lynn. From Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies to Pumpkin and Butter Bean Curry; stacks of recipes and ideas can be found online at for this versatile vegetable. Even the seeds can be roasted and toasted for snacking.  And if you’re throwing a party, swap disposable plates and cutlery for china, or use biodegradable plates that can be turned into compost.

Trick or treat
This odd tradition dates back to ‘All Souls Day,’ an English festival in which the poor would offer prayers for dead relatives of wealthier families in exchange for food. Nowadays, trick-or-treating represents an exercise in greed and excess - none of which is good for children’s health (teeth and tummies) or the planet. Instead of buying individually wrapped minis, try baking muffins, cookies or a cake using free range eggs, whip it into suitably spooky shape and hey presto, you’ve got haunted cookies.  If baking isn’t your thing, buy organic and Fairtrade treats to hand out instead of palm oil based jellies. ‘It doesn’t have to be all about sweets,’ says Lynn. ‘Give out seasonal fruits such as apples or nuts, better yet, make caramel or toffee apples using Fairtrade chocolate.’ Try Cocoa Loco’s organic, Fairtrade Chocolate Eyeballs, £1.99 per pack, or their gruesomely good Chocolate Skull Lolly, £1.25 at Abel and Cole.

What to do
If you’re hosting a children’s party, try bobbing for apples, with local apples of course, or putting a scary twist on traditional games, such as pin the broom on the witch or musical monsters, which is similar to musical statues but with ghostly tunes and monster moves. If you want to get your young horrors out this half-term head down to the Halloween themed Eden Project for ice-skating and a monster-ball. Working along similar lines, try getting back to nature and head to one the UK's National Parks, nearly all of which offer low-carbon Halloween activities to enjoy such as ghost trails and paranormal investigations. Cardiff University is also putting on an Eco-Halloween Fayre to help raise awareness about sustainability issues with a spooky twist.


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